What Puts You At A Higher Risk For Autoimmune Diseases?

You are born with a natural security system called the immune system that guards your organs and tissues against outside agents (via Healthline). Usually, the immune system is able to differentiate between the body's cells and foreign cells. However, in autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes the body's cells as foreign and attacks them. As a result, it releases various antibodies to destroy the body's healthy cells, explains Healthline. According to John Hopkins Medicine, if you have an autoimmune condition, you may experience symptoms like fatigue, swelling in your glands, skin issues, inflammation or pain in your joints, or a recurring fever. 

The number of people affected by autoimmune diseases is continually on the rise. According to statistics by Genentech, about 23.5 million Americans — making up more than 7% of the population — have some type of autoimmune condition. Several common autoimmune conditions include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves' disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, per WebMD.

What increases the risk of autoimmune diseases?

One of the most common risk factors for autoimmune diseases is genetics, according to Verywell Health. Many autoimmune conditions tend to run in families, and scientists have also identified specific genetic mutations that show up in people with these diseases. For example, Future Medicine reveals that problems with a gene called TYK2 have been linked to incidences of lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis.

Another important risk factor that plays a role in the chances of developing autoimmune conditions is your birth sex. Genentech reports that common autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis are more common in females than males. A 2020 study published in Cureus reported that autoimmune diseases show a female bias, affecting women more than men at a 2 to 1 ratio. In a 2014 study, experts stated that certain changes in reproductive capacities, sex hormones, immune system changes in pregnancy, and epigenetics could play a role in the high incidence of autoimmune conditions in females.

Similarly, obesity is also an often-ignored risk factor for autoimmune conditions. A 2020 study published in Current Obesity Reports found that being overweight or obese may lead to immune deficiencies, trigger inflammatory body responses, and create the perfect environment for autoimmune diseases.